My 6-year-old daughter landed a spot Sunday in a cheering clinic at NCAA Hoop City, then came out with her fellow cheerleaders to perform before a nice-sized crowd inside the Tampa Convention Center.
Eager to see what she had learned (we're always eager, we're parents), my wife and I grabbed a seat near midcourt. We didn't know we had plopped down in the middle of the Stanford University cheering section. It turned out to be a good choice.
After the cheer routine, the respective pep bands of the Final Four teams — Stanford, Connecticut, Louisiana State and Tennessee — took the floor for a spirited competition. Being surrounded by Cardinal fans, we had little choice but to root for the Cardinal band — officially known as Leland Stanford Junior *pause* University Marching Band, according to its Web site.
I immediately recognized the band's red-banded white fishing hats, having seen "the Play" 100,000 times. That's the multi-lateral game-winning Cal touchdown over Stanford in which the announcer screams, "The band is on the field."
I also vaguely recalled that the band had produced some rather edgy performances over the years, including a few that got it suspended.
What I didn't know is that these guys and girls can play. I mean, they absolutely rock.
Each band began with their fight songs. Being a Gator, I had to steel my nerves through yet another playing of Rocky Top. Yeech.
Stanford played last and broke out with a rousing rendition of All Right Now. The rock anthem has been the band's signature song since 1972, and along the way I think it mixed in It's a Small World.
The band plays the song with incredible verve, and includes a little "jump" at the beginning of each verse. In an instant, everybody in the section was jumping.
In the next two rounds, the other bands turned in some nice performances, but it didn't rival Stanford's We Want the Funk and Living in America. During the latter song, the trumpet players displayed some showmanship by dashing into the stands while continuing to play.
What I also liked was that Stanford danced to the songs being played by the other bands. When Tennessee broke out Pat Benatar's Heartbreaker, Stanford rocked along. When UConn jammed Thriller, some of the Cardinal did their best Michael Jackson. When LSU offered up the opening riff of Ozzy Osborne's Crazy Train, everyone in the Stanford band echoed with "aye, aye, aye."
Crowd applause determined the winner, and while the other three schools had more fans, the loudest cheers were for Stanford.
I suspect these guys have won over plenty of fans over the years, but please add me to the list. I even watched Sunday's Stanford game hoping to catch some of the sounds of the band.
I'm not ready to put it in the same category as Florida A&M's beloved Marching 100 — and I'm pretty sure it doesn't want to be categorized with anyone — but how could I not love a band that plays Parliament?
Stanford's performance capped off a good time at the Hoop City fan festival. I have to admit I may have never made it down if my wife hadn't volunteered.
The kids and I filled an entire day reveling in all the interactive displays, and I even learned about the challenges of wheelchair basketball from the U.S. Paralympic National Team.
I'm already looking forward to the next time the Women's Final Four comes to town.
That's all I'm saying.